Good question. And it comes with a pretty easy answer—whew. I’ll bet you haven’t heard that very often.
Easy answer, but it does take some time.
My advice about how to best learn to write stories . . .
It isn’t a surprise to any teacher.
Read as much as you can.
And preferably good stuff. I mean really, really good stuff.
Personally, I think the best stuff you can read is literary fiction. Not Stephen King, not John Grisham, not Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks or Danielle Steele or Patricia Cornwell. Nope.
Those are best-sellers. They’re fun, mysterious, page-turners.
They’re good for plot, I’m give them that. They tell good stories. So they’re useful in that regard.
But to take your reading, your learning, your writing to a whole new level, read literary fiction.
Now who would that be?
A lot of these writers you’ve possibly not heard of.
But some you may have heard of because, remarkably, Oprah’s reading lists contain lots of literary fiction writers.
Literary fiction concentrates more on character development and style of language than does popular fiction. If you were to read it out loud, it would sound very pleasing to listen to.
In addition to language, the imagery, the sense of place and multi-layered stories of life make literary fiction a whole other world from popular fiction.
Here are a couple good places to start:
The classics. Some of my favorite classic writers are Eudora Welty, whose prose sings on the page, Mark Twain and William Faulkner.
The classic detective novels. Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler wrote more than fifty years ago but their writing is crisp, sharp and never dull.
The moderns. Personally I can recommend several writers I know who’ve hit the big time with major literary publishing houses. Wayne Caldwell, whose story-telling and writing are both superb. (Cataloochie, Requiem by Fire), Michael Parker (The Watery Part of the World, Hello Down There), Tommy Hays (In the Family Way, The Pleasure Was Mine).
Sometimes just the title alone will give you an idea of the pleasure to come in a literary novel: The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (by Jamie Ford), The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (by Mary Ann Shaffer), Water for Elephants: A Novel (by Sara Gruen).
Why should I be so insistent that you read literary novels, especially? Because they’re long on both depth and language, two elements that will carry you far simply by reading them. You’ll absorb the phrases, the words, the language and you’ll unconsciously develop your own voice, your own way of saying what you mean, if you read enough and absorb enough.
Read, read, read.
You can learn about literary novels from book lists on the National Public Radio website, the New York Times best-seller list and its Sunday book review section, and by reviewing Oprah’s picks (most of them, anyway).
Last week I was surprised and pleased to find that one of my favorite writers has a new book. It’s not fiction. It’s actually history. But he’s written history before (Boone) and it’s so readable that it’s almost like fiction.
He’s Robert Morgan. His new book is Lions of the West, about nine of the most famous political figures who were expansionists of the American west.
Morgan’s an engaging novelist and poet (his novel, Gap Creek, was an Oprah pick) and when he speaks, he sounds like a great orator or a preacher. You can hear him speak, in fact, here in an interview on WUNC public radio’s show, The State of Things.
Listen and see if you agree.
Do you think that Morgan tells a good story in person? Does that make you want to read his work?
Would you ever read some of the books with the titles I’ve mentioned above? Have you read any of the classics and liked them?
Who do you read?
Tell me in the reply section below. Let’s start a book title swap.